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Lady Margaret by E.M.G. Routh (pub. 1924)





THE happy family party which had been the source of so many interests was broken up after the death of the Queen in February 1503, and Lady Margaret, withdrawing from Court life, gave herself up more and more to the good works inspired by the reforming energy of Fisher.

The Earl of Derby died on the 29th July 1504, having directed in his will that the countess should enjoy all the lordships and manors assigned for her jointure. After his death she renewed the vow of chastity which she had already made. 'In her husband's days, long time before that he died,' said Fisher, 'she obtained of him license and promised to live chaste, in the hands of the Reverend Father my Lord of London, which promise she renewed after her husband's death into my hands again.'

Such vows were in certain cases encouraged by the Church, and persons making them were given a complimentary conventual veil and ring. It seems to be for this reason -- so Mr. Baker surmised -- that the Countess of Richmond was depicted in her old age as a nun, though she never lived a cloistered life. She spent much time in meditation and used the Beaufort motto 'Souvent me souviens', but it was not without reason that Fisher compared her with Martha; she was of too active a disposition to give up all her duties in the world or to devote herself entirely to a life of contemplation, though she ruled her days with a strict discipline and was an honorary member of several of the religious houses to which she was a benefactress. One of these she had joined when still quite young; this was the Abbey of Croyland, near her manor of Deeping, where her mother, the Duchess of Somerset, desiring to be commended to the prayers of the fraternity, was in 1464 admitted to be a Sister of the Chapter. It was she who persuaded her daughter, as a monk of Croyland recorded, 'to become a Sister along with her and in like manner enjoy the benefit of our prayers'. 'This was done', he added candidly, 'to the end that being bound to us by such ties as these, she might be rendered more benevolent to us hereafter and more complacent in every respect.' [1] Possibly for the same business-like reason, she was admitted into 'confraternity' at Westminster, the Charterhouse, Durham, Wimborne, and Thorney.

The piety and austerity of her own life has been put on record by Fisher, who was for some years her chaplain and confessor.[2]

To God and to the Church, he said, she was 'full obedient and tractable, searching His honour and pleasure full busily'. Daily she spent much time at her prayers and devotions which she began 'at her up-rising, which commonly was not long after five of the clock'. After the Matins of Our Lady and Matins of the day, she 'heard four or five Masses upon her knees, so continuing in her prayers and devotions unto the hour of dinner, which of the eating day was ten of the clock and upon the fasting day eleven. After dinner full truly she would go her Stations to three Altars daily; daily her dirges and commendations she would say and her Evensongs before supper', and she would spend a 'large quarter of an hour' in her chapel before bed-time, on her knees when rheumatism did not prevent her. She well under stood her Latin service-books, though she often lamented that she had not studied the Latin language more diligently in her youth.

Her ardent conscience would let her do nothing half-heartedly; penance and fasting were enjoined by the Church and encouraged by her austere confessor, so she had her shirts and girdles of hair according to the medieval custom, and wore one or other of these uncomfortable garments 'for the health of her soul' on certain days of the week, when the health of her body permitted. Her 'sober temperance in meats and drinks' was well known, and in her later years she avoided banquets, 'rere-soupers', and 'ioncryes betwyxe meales'.

The Fasts appointed by the Church she kept dili gently and seriously, and during Lent she 'restrayned her appetyte tyl one mele [one version is 'tyl on mele of fleshe'] and tyl one fysshe on the day'. Her confessor spoke with respectful admiration of her capacity for 'meruayllous wepynge' at her confessions and communions, for he regarded a flood of tears as a token of sincerity of soul. So indeed, in her case, no doubt it was, for she was always simple and unaffected. It was not then the fashion to conceal one's feelings, and though English people had already a continental reputation for stolidity, self-control in its modern form was a virtue very little appreciated in the fifteenth century.

The extant letters of the Countess of Richmond are essentially business-like, but those written to the King are full of affection. Writing usually with formal and respectful loyalty to her Sovereign, and sometimes with the extravagant humility then customary, she yet lets little loving expressions constantly break in -- 'my dear heart' she calls him; 'my very joy'; 'my good heart'; 'my own sweet and most dear King and all my worldly joy' -- and she concludes with the fervent blessings of 'your faithful true bede woman and humble mother'.

Several of her letters refer to a long-drawn-out lawsuit inherited from her mother, the Duchess of Somerset, against the Duchess of Orleans, before the Parliament of Paris, [3] concerning the ransom of the Duke of Orleans, a prisoner of war taken at Agincourt, whose release was arranged by the Beauforts in 1440. Lady Margaret at length offered her interest in the debt to Henry VII; the matter was still pending after his death and hers. The following letter, written from Calais, is attributed to the year 1501:

'To the King's Grace. [4]

'My dearest and only desired joy in this world, with my most hearty loving blessings and humble commendations, I pray our Lord to reward and thank your Grace for that it hath pleased your Highness so kindly and lovingly to be content to write your letters of thanks to the French king for my great matter, that so long hath been in suit, as Master Welby hath showed me your bounteous goodness is pleased. I wish, my dear heart, an' my fortune be to recover it, I trust you shall well perceive I shall deal towards you as a kind loving Mother, and if I should never have it, yet your kind dealing is to me a thousand times more than all that good I can recover, an' all the French king's might be mine withal. My dear heart, an' it may please your Highness to license Master Whytstongs (or Whitstone) for this time to present your honourable letters and begin the process of my cause . . . it should be greatly to my help, as I think, but all will I remit to your pleasure, and if I be too bold in this or any of my desires, I humbly beseech your Grace of pardon and that your Highness take no displeasure.

'My good King, I have now sent a servant of mine into Kendall to receive such annuities as be yet hang ing upon the account of Sir William Wall my Lord's chaplain, whom I have clearly discharged, and if it will please your Majesty's own heart at your leisure to send me a letter and command me that I suffer none of my tenants be retained with no man, but that they be kept for my Lord of York, your fair sweet son, for whom they be most meet, it shall be a good excuse for me to my lord and husband, and then I may well and without displeasure cause them all to be sworn, the which shall not after be long undone.

'And, my sweet king, Feilding. this bearer, hath prayed me to beseech you to be his good lord in a matter he sueth for to the Bishop of Ely, now, as we hear, elect, for a little office nigh to Lond[on]. Verily, my king, he is a good and a wise well-ruled gentle man, and full truly hath served you well-accompanied, as well at your first as all other occasions, and that causeth us to be the more bold and gladder also to speak for him; howbeit my lord Marquis hath been very low to him in times past, because he would not be retained with him, and truly, my good king, he helpeth me right well in such matters as I have business within these parts. And my dear heart, I now beseech you of pardon of my long and tedious writing, and pray Almighty God to give you as long, good and prosperous life as ever had prince, and as hearty blessings as I can ask of God.

'At Calais town this day of St. Annes (Agnes) [5] that I did bring into this world my good and gracious prince, king and only beloved son.'

By your humble servant, bede-woman and mother

'Margaret R.'

Another letter written to the King refers to the subject of the Orleans suit:

'My own sweet and most dear king and all my worldly joy, in as humble manner as I can think I recommend me to your Grace, and most heartily beseech our Lord to bless you. And my good heart . . . you say that the French king hath at this time given me courteous answer and written [a] letter of favour to his Court of Parliament for the true expedition of my matter which so long hath hanged, the which I well know he doth especially for your sake.... I wis my very joy, as I oft have showed, an' I fortune to get this or any part thereof, there shall neither be that or any good I have but it shall [be] yours, and at your commandment as surely and with as good a will as any you have in your coffers, as would God you could know it as verily as I think it. But, my dear heart, I will no more encumber your Grace with further writing in this matter, for I am sure your chaplain and servant Doctor Whytston hath showed your Highness the circumstance of the same.

'And if it so may please your grace, I humbly beseech the same to give further credence also to this bearer.

'And Our Lord give you as long good life, health and joy, as your most noble heart can desire, with as hearty blessings as Our Lord hath given me power to give you.

'At "Colynweston" the 14th day of January, by your faithful true bede-woman and humble mother.

'Margaret. R.' [6]